You cheated on your partner. Maybe you had a one-night stand. Or perhaps your infidelity stemmed from an emotional romance or a long-standing affair. Infidelity can take on many forms, and regardless of your particular transgression, you’re trying to understand how to support your partner who’s trying to heal.
Couples trying to navigate the aftermath of infidelity or an affair may feel overwhelmed and hopeless. And it is probably no surprise that rebuilding trust after infidelity can be a long and challenging road.
Betraying partners often ask their betrayed significant other what they need to heal from the infidelity. Knowing how to answer that question can be difficult for injured partners, partly because they may be overwhelmed with pain and heightened anxiety. Your betrayed partner may also struggle to shake their fears of getting hurt if they allow themselves to trust again. Despite your transgressions, there are six ways you can help your partner heal from infidelity.
Practice radical honesty.
Betraying partners often struggle with guilt and shame around their actions. They often fear the painful impact that will come as a result of disclosing their affair. These insecurities create a strong urge to avoid the topic of the affair, to hide or minimize details of their interactions with the affair partner, and to keep secrets about what occurred.
Unfortunately, betrayed partners often describe secret-keeping and the gradual information discovery as some of the most traumatizing parts of their experience, so radical honesty is important. That said, it can be hard for a betraying partner to know exactly what to disclose. Some details may feel triggering for the injured partner to learn, and they may send mixed messages about what they want to know. When in doubt, the betraying partner should ask what they want to know. For example, when did the affair start? What was your contact with the affairing partner? Or perhaps what were the emotional reasons behind your affair?
When betraying partners practice radical honesty, they commit to taking full responsibility for their actions. Radical honesty ensures that the betraying partners tell the truth up front, including transparent communications and their whereabouts. No more secrets!
Cut all ties with your affair partner.
The betraying partner must be willing to cut all ties with their affair partner. This means no contact — not just removing their number from your phone but also no social media engagement. It may also mean avoiding social situations that may involve your affair partner. It could include transferring professional roles if your affair partner is a colleague.
Different couples should create a plan for new boundaries together, and it is essential to listen to what your partner needs to feel calmer through affair recovery.
Remorse, a mixture of strong guilt and regret, is often quite painful to feel but imperative to express. Your betrayed partner needs to see you express remorse. Remorse is a significant component of the healing process because it shows your partner that you can feel the impact of the pain you have caused and that you are hurting over their hurt.
However, don’t become emotionally self-consumed or overly flooded with guilt and shame. If you become overly flooded with shame, you’ll have difficulty attuning and responding to your partner’s hurt. As a result, your partner may even comfort you and feel unseen in their own pain.
Pursue your partner.
Just like in your early days of dating, be deliberate about pursuing your partner for regular conversation and quality time. Be aware of what they are doing, and ask how they are feeling or what they are thinking about. Learn to express curiosity and empathy about whatever they share.
Importantly, don’t wait for your partner to pursue you first. Injured partners often feel a lot of internal pain and anxiety, and although they often ultimately long for closeness and contact, they may feel too vulnerable to initiate. If you are uncertain about your partner’s wishes, ask if it would be okay to sit next to them or offer a hug or conversation. Giving your partner permission to decline is always better than assuming they don’t want contact.
Validate your partner’s pain.
It can feel overwhelming to listen and take in the many layers and nuances of your partner’s pain. Remember to slow down and do your best to stay calm in the moment. Find the courage to ask your partner to share the worst parts of their feelings and offer appropriate remorse and compassion. This step will probably need to be repeated numerous times.
Be aware that your partner’s anger and mistrust are a part of their pain. The more your partner shares while you stay present and compassionate, the more trust will likely grow. You can send the message that you care, you are sorry, and you can feel the specific impact of your actions.
Share your story.
At some point, your partner will ask questions about how your affair occurred and your reasons for doing it. Do your best to reflect and offer responses. Even if you cannot locate a specific explanation for why you made the choice, try to be clear about why you kept it secret. Understanding that part can help create a roadmap for how to avoid anything like this ever happening again.
A word of caution when sharing your experience—don’t prioritize your narrative over your partner’s narrative. And don’t become emotionally self-consumed as you share.
Because it is so emotionally impactful, affair recovery can take time. Remind yourself often to be patient with the process. Long-term commitment and consistent follow-through are imperative aspects of successful infidelity recovery. Many couples recover from infidelity; staying focused on and repeating the above steps will help. Here are some additional resources for healing from infidelity.
Need more help with infidelity recovery?
Infidelity recovery is an emotionally laden process, and partners may get stuck. Your partner may need extra help to heal after your affair. Our practice offers in-person appointments in Charlotte, NC, and Carefree, AZ. We also have virtual sessions available for those who live in Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, or Texas. Contact us to get started.
If you are in Charlotte, In Session Psych, our practice that focuses on supporting individuals, offers in-person support groups. We have one specifically designed to support the betrayed partner. To see if this group is a good fit for you, learn more here.